Downton Abbey, Season 4 - TCA: Michelle Dockery
Downton Abbey, Season 4 - Michelle Dockery at the Television Critics Association Summer Press Tour in Los Angeles, CA on Tuesday, August 6, 2013 ©2013 PBS, photo by Rahoul Ghose

I’m not sure which is more shocking – the fact that Matthew Crawley (Dan Stevens) was killed in the last episode of Season 3 of Downton Abbey, or the fact that they ran that episode on Christmas Day in England. Talk about Bah Humbug!

Now Lady Mary, portrayed by the beautiful Michelle Dockery, must face the world with a new baby and without her husband.

Season 4, which premieres in Europe next month, won’t be seen on US television until January 5, 2014. Michelle came to the TV Critics tour this week to discuss Lady Mary’s life without Matthew.

When you first learned that Dan Stevens was leaving the show, did you think, ‘Oh crap,’ or that you’d get to do lots of new interesting things?

Downton Abbey, Season 4 - TCA: Sophie McShera, Gareth Neame and Michelle Dockery
Sophie McShera, executive producer Gareth Neame and Michelle Dockery ©2013 PBS, photo by Rahoul Ghose

My first reaction was, ‘Oh, crap. What is going to happen?’ I thought, ‘Where can the story go now?’ We spent all this time having this on-off, will they/won’t they relationship, and then suddenly it was coming to an end.

But I think that, as much as it was sad to see Dan go, the same as it was to see Jessica (Brown Findlay who played Lady Sybil) go, it opens up opportunity for Julian to write a new chapter and something quite different, not only for Mary but the knock-on effect it has for other characters.

I was concerned, but now I’m not because it’s a great series, and it’s a very different series to what it could have been.

Mary has a new love interest this season Lord Gillingham, who’s played by Tom Cullen. Can you talk a little about that?

Downton Abbey, Season 4 - TCA: Michelle Dockery
Michelle Dockery ©2013 PBS, Rahoul Ghose

He’s an old family friend who she’s known since the girls were children, and they haven’t seen him since she was tiny. She’s slowly, throughout the series, coming back to real life.

It’s important to her to eventually move on. So he’s a potential love interest, [but] she actually has more than one love interest.

Given what tends to happen to Lady Mary’s lovers, wouldn’t most men in town be wary?

The new actors coming into the show as suitors are really brave, because God knows what can happen. I’m pretty sure that Richard Carlisle (Iain Glen) is somewhere dead and we don’t even know about it.

Downton Abbey, Season 4 - Michelle Dockery and Allen Leech
Downton Abbey Season 4 – Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) with Baby George and Tom Branson (Allen Leech) with baby Sybbie ©2013 Carnival /ITV /PBS Masterpiece

Tom, Sybil’s widower, and Mary have some things in common. Do they start spending more time together?

We are aware that there are suspicions about Tom and Mary’s relationship. They are very much friends, and he is her brother-in-law still. I think they become close because of what they’ve both been through, having lost a partner.

Also, Mary becomes far more involved in the running of the estate with Tom. So we do have a lot of scenes together. But, romantically, I don’t think it’s going anywhere. I hope not. It’s very inappropriate.

Mary has softened a lot since the first season

She has, yeah.

But she still doesn’t seem the motherly-type

Downton Abbey, Season 4 - TCA: Michelle Dockery
Michelle Dockery ©2013 PBS, Rahoul Ghose

She was never going to be a very maternal mother. But within the aristocracy, they didn’t really see their kids very much. There’s a nanny, eventually there will be a governess looking after baby George.

So you don’t see much interaction between the baby and Mary. To begin with, it’s hard for her to relate. It’s hard to bond with the baby, because she’s going through grief, and she looks at him and she sees Matthew. It’s a slow process with motherhood for Mary.

You are quoted as saying that you would stay with the show throughout its entire run, but have you been receiving offers from Hollywood?

What’s been wonderful about this show is that it’s opened doors for all of us. So many of the cast are off doing other things in between. Dan is obviously doing brilliantly since he left the show.

As far as we know, we are doing Season 5 next year, and beyond that we really don’t know. That’s in the hands of Julian and our producers. So we’ll see. I think so long as the core cast remain, [it will be okay]. If other actors start leaving, that would be a worry.

I think it’s been  fine so far, but so long as it remains as an ensemble, which essentially is what the show is, we’ll [be fine].

Have you ever gone on Twitter to see what the buzz is about the show?

I’ve had moments of thinking maybe I would. I’ve been shy about it, and maybe I should do it. And it turns out there’s an actual page called ‘Lady Mary’s Eyebrows.’ I can’t believe it!

Judy Sloane

Judy is Film Review Online's regular Los Angeles based reporter.